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Here you will find some FAQs, or (Frequently Asked Questions), that will help you with your most common questions.

Click on each question to see its answer.


1

Whom do I call if I suspect my septic system is failing?

2

If my septic system is failed will I have to abandon it and replace it with a whole new system?

3

What is the main cause of failure of a septic system?

4

What can I do to prevent my septic system from failing?

5

Should I restrict the number of guests that come to my home?

6

Is a garbage disposal harmful to my system?

7

What is the recommended interval for pumping my septic tank?

8

Should I add substances to my septic system to help the treatment process?

9

Do you recommend a yearly inspection by a qualified professional as preventative maintenance for my septic system?

10

Who is qualified to inspect and maintain septic systems?

11

What precautions should I take to assist in properly maintaining my septic system?

12

What is a percolation test?

13

What is a Wet Season or Dry Season Verification?

14

What is a State Sewage Approval?

15

How long is my Rhode Island State Sewage Approval valid?

16

What are the different classes of licensed designers in Rhode Island?

17

What type of Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISDS) is preferred?

18

What is the difference between a gravity and a mechanical septic system?

19

I have heard about water saving devices. What are they and what are their advantages?

20

Should I install water saving devices in my home?

21

Is it permissible to place a well downslope from my septic system?

22

When my septic tank is pumped should I request that the pumper leave some solids in my septic tank?

23

What is an effluent filter?

1. Whom do I call if I suspect my septic system is failing?

It depends on what type of failure is occurring.

a. Contact a plumber if you suspect the failure is inside your dwelling.

b. If the ground around your septic system is wet or has a strong odor or the liquid level within your septic tank or cesspool is higher than normal, then you should contact:

  • A cesspool / septic tank pumper.
  • The installing contractor, if known.
  • The designer of your septic system.
  • A qualified professional inspector of septic systems.

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2. If my septic system is failed, will I have to abandon it and replace it with a whole new system?

It depends on the location of the failure. Failures can occur in the house, the septic tank, or the leach field. Once the cause of the failure has been determined, the remedies can range from simple to a complete replacement. Often only a portion of the septic system needs to be repaired or replaced. Many investigators are too quick to recommend a complete replacement without determining the cause of the failure.

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3. What is the main cause of failure of an septic system?

The main cause of failure is an excess of wastewater directed to the septic system. Most often this is a direct result of leaks. Though this is the number one cause, many other problems impact a system. Installation of a leach field too close or into the groundwater, broken pipes and infrequent pumping of the septic tank are some of the other causes for failure.

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4. What can I do to prevent my septic system from failing?

See our list of Do's and Don'ts in the Septic Snooper web page.

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5. Should I restrict the number of guests that come to my home?

Provided that your system has been properly maintained, you may have guests and parties at your home without fear of system failure. Caution must be exercised if extra people will be staying in your home for extended periods (approximately 30 days or more.)

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6. Is a garbage disposal harmful to my system?

A garbage disposal can add a substantial amount of solid waste that must be digested by the microorganisms in your septic tank. Increasing the solids entering the septic tank increases the amount of solids that may enter your leaching field ultimately causing premature failure.

My best advice is not to install a garbage disposal. Consider placing organic kitchen waste in a compost bin. If your lifestyle requires that you use a garbage disposal, consider adding a second septic tank prior to your leaching field. If you are in the process of a building a new home increase the size of the septic tank to provide an additional 250 - 500 gallons of capacity above the minimum requirements. An effluent filter should be added to the outlet of all septic tanks to reduce the suspended solids from leaving the septic tank.

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7. What is the recommended interval for pumping my septic tank?

There is no single answer to this question. Pumping intervals are dependent on the design capacity of the septic system and the actual number of occupants in you dwelling. Based on a properly sized septic tank I recommend the following:

Two Bedroom home

2 people

every

5 years

3 people

every

4 years

4 people

every

3 years

     

Three Bedroom home

2 people

every

5 years

3 people

every

4 years

4-5 people

every

3 years

6 people

every

2-3 years

     

Four Bedroom home

2-3 people

every

6 years

4 people

every

5 years

5-6 people

every

4 years

7-8 people

every

3 years

The above pumping intervals are general guidelines. Some municipalities may have regulations in place governing the maximum time between pumping. If your septic system is inspected annually by a qualified professional, then the professional may recommend a pumping interval tailored to your specific situation.

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8. Should I add substances to my septic system to help the treatment process?

Do not add additives or substances to your system without consulting a professional sewage disposal engineer. You should allow nature to take care of your system. A properly designed and maintained system should function indefinitely without the aid of additives. An investigation of your system by a qualified professional may require specialized treatment if an actual failure is diagnosed. Use of additives to a failing system without the benefit of a professional inspection may exacerbate a condition beyond a simple repair.

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9. Do you recommend a yearly inspection by a qualified professional as preventative maintenance for my septic system?

Yes, I recommend the annual inspection of a septic system. This inspection should include all aspects of the septic system including uses inside your home. A record of the number of occupants and the monthly water consumption should also be recorded. This could show possible leaks indicating excess wastewater entering the leach field.

The inspector should check the condition of the septic tank and distribution box and clean the effluent filter inside the septic tank. A core sample should also be taken from the septic tank to determine when the septic tank should be pumped. Examination of the core sample will also indicate if unacceptable substances are being added to the septic system.

Observation of the distribution box (D-box) will allow the inspector to determine the health of the leach field and make any adjustments to the outlet piping.

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10. Who is qualified to inspect and maintain septic systems?

I recommend a professional engineer who is well versed in the design, installation and function of a septic system. Many home inspectors perform an inspection of the septic system as part of the house inspection but do not have the education, training, or professional expertise to properly perform this function.

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11. What precautions should I take to assist in properly maintaining my septic system?

See our list of Do's and Don'ts in the Septic Snooper web page.

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12. What is a percolation test?

Many people believe a percolation test is the term that defines all the testing that is required by a regulatory agency and refer to land as being "perc'd". Unfortunately, this misuse of this term has caused great confusion between people. A percolation test is an onsite soil test that determines the capacity of the soil to receive liquid. The State of Rhode Island has a set of regulations governing this testing. A 6" - 8" diameter hole is dug in the native soil to a proper depth. After saturation of the hole, the drop in water level is monitored over a predetermined period of time to determine the percolation rate.

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13. What is a Wet Season or Dry Season Verification?

Either a "Wet Season Verification" or a "Dry Season Verification" are two of several soil tests that are required by the State of Rhode Island. Usually only one these two tests are required in addition to a percolation test. A deep hole is excavated with a backhoe in the anticipated location of a leach field to provide a detailed examination of the soils characteristics and to determine the presence of water and/or ledge.

A "Wet Season" is done in the spring time when expected water tables are at their highest. Several water table readings are taken by a designer over an extended period of time to determine the maximum groundwater table elevation. The readings are then submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) for verification by their staff.

A "Dry Season" is similar to the Wet Season above except the excavation is done during the dryer time of year and witnessed by the staff of the RIDEM. Special soil conditions must be met and large factors are likely to be applied to any found water tables. If the Dry Season requirements cannot be met than a resubmission must be made under the Wet Season criteria.

The State of Rhode Island has recently enacted legislation requiring licensing of Soil Evaluators. In order to be licensed, a Soil Evaluator must meet specific education and experience requirements.

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14. What is a State Sewage Approval?

This is an approval for an Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISDS) granted by a regulatory agency. Detailed plans, specifications and an application must be submitted with the appropriate fee to the DEM. The State of Rhode Island requires that plans and specifications be prepared by a licensed professional that has obtained special licensing from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

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15. How long is my Rhode Island State Sewage Approval valid?

Current and new approvals are valid from 2 years to 5 years depending on the time and type of application.

If a new application is submitted by a licensed designer, then the application shall be valid for 5 years.
All applications submitted after Oct. 1, 1999 shall be valid for 5 years.

Contact your system designer or the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Individual Sewage Disposal Section for more specific information regarding your application.

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16. What are the different classes of licensed designers in Rhode Island?

There are 3 classes of designers licensed in R.I. in addition to a licensed Soil Evaluator.

Class I

Limited to licensed drainlayers / installers, Land Surveyors or Professional Engineers. The designer is licensed to design a repair to an existing residential septic system with a capacity of less than 900 gallon per day.

Class II

Limited to Land Surveyors or Professional Engineers. Design new construction or repairs to existing systems of less than 2000 gallons per day for residential use or 900 gallons per day for commercial use, using conventional septic systems. Some limited types of alternative systems less than 900 gallons per day. Applications requiring certain variances from the regulations will require a class III license.

Class III

Limited to Professional Engineers. Authorizes all designs permitted under the current regulations.

Class IV

Soil Evaluator's license permitting onsite soil testing. Special educational and / or experience prior to testing.

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17. What type of Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISDS) is preferred?

There are no standard or preferred systems. Your system designer will specifically design an ISDS for your individual site. Your designer must take account the type of soils, depth to ledge or seasonal high water table, terrain, lot size and the location of your new or existing house and proximity to wells, waterlines and sensitive environmental areas that need to be protected. Your designer may choose to use a specially designed system that uses innovative technology because of site constraints or concern for a sensitive environmental area that is nearby.

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18. What is the difference between a gravity and a mechanical septic system?

An all gravity system is simpler and less costly to operate and maintain. With fewer or no moving parts there is far less maintenance required for a gravity system. A mechanical system contains one or more pumps with timers, relays and/or recorders. These are more costly to operate and require additional costs for maintenance and repair. Annual service and maintenance contracts are more expensive with mechanical systems.

Not all systems can be gravity due to site conditions, but you should stress to your system designer that you prefer a gravity low maintenance system.

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19. I have heard about water saving devices. What are they and what are their advantages?

Many new building codes require the installation of water saving fixtures for new building construction or renovations. These devices reduce the water consumption at each fixture by 30% to 70%. Fixtures include sink faucets, showerheads, reduced flush toilets, and water conserving appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines.

Fixture

Old Style

New Style

Toilets

3.5 - 5 gals/flush

1.6 gallons/flush or less

Faucets

5 gal/minute

2 gal/minute

Showerheads

5 gal/minute

2 gal/minute

Washing Mach.

55 gal/load

30 gal/load

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20. Should I install water saving devices in my home?

By all means. Most water conserving fixtures are required for new construction and are relatively inexpensive when retrofitting an existing home. Installation of these fixtures will extend the life of your septic system because of the reduction of wastewater. Additionally, there will be a reduction in your water costs from your municipality or savings in electricity and pump costs if you are on a well.

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21. Is it permissible to place a well downslope from my septic system?

Yes, with caution! Rhode Island regulations only require a 100' separation from any well to any septic system without regard to slope. However, you should request that your designer place your well up gradient from your septic system as well as your neighbor's system if practical. The flow direction of groundwater generally follows the ground surface profile. Your designer should take into account other land features such as nearby wetlands, water bodies or drains that may indicate the direction of groundwater flow so your well is not in the path of the groundwater from your leach field.

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22. When my septic tank is pumped should I request that the pumper leave some solids in my septic tank?

Some people believe that leaving some solids in the septic tank will speed the return of good bacteria to restart the proper digestion within the tank. This is not necessary as there are ample bacteria available for this process. Have your pumper remove all the solids. Use of a garden hose may be required to loosen heavy deposits during the pumping. You should be present while your tank is being pump to be sure the contents are completely removed, and the effluent filter is cleaned if the septic tank has one.

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23. What is an effluent filter?

An effluent filter is a reusable plastic filter that is installed in the outlet end of a septic tank. The effluent filter is a cost effective means to reduce that amount of suspended solids that leave the septic tank. Keeping the solids within the septic tank greatly increases the lifespan of your leaching field. Typical cost for a residential filter is less than $50 not including installation. Most existing septic tanks can easily be retrofitted with a filter. Although not currently a requirement in Rhode Island, all new septic tanks should have an effluent filter installed.

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